Switching Gears: A Teaching Life (Part I)

I’ve been a teacher for more than half of my life and while it was, admittedly, one of my career choices, it was not my first. Every since I became aware of the concept of a career, I have wanted to be a writer first, second, a director, and third, an artist. There were several other potential choices along the way, including an actor, a doctor, a nun, and an Olympic athlete. At different times, I also considered being a historian (thanks to my senior high school history teacher who was a mentor and a dear friend to me until she died), an architect (because I loved the idea of seeing my wildest building concepts become concrete and I loved the works of Frank Lloyd Wright), an archaeologist (because I loved history and I dreamt of visiting ancient ruins), a choreographer (because I loved to watch dance performances and for a while found creative expression in dancing and had the opportunity to work with a dance company and do a bit of choreography), and a computer programmer (because I was intrigued by how I might create software that would do what I wanted it to).

I never shared my deepest desires with anyone. When I was 10, a conversation with my parents changed my mind about several potential career choices. Doctor? Mama said it would be too difficult for me because I would have to do a lot of memorization, work in a lab with corpses, and be the minority in a world of men. Actor? Mama said it was an immoral world and not for me because all girls in theatre were invariably loose and had no morals. Olympic athlete? Mama said why should I choose archery, of all sports, with such expensive equipment. Archaeologist? I would have to travel far and always be on the move, getting myself all filthy from digging dirt. Architect? That was a man’s field. Nun? I would break my father’s heart. Teacher? That wouldn’t earn me enough to sustain me. Computer programmer? I lost interest when they switched programming languages just when I was planning to try to see how much more serious I could get with it. I recently took some lessons in web design, graphic design, social media marketing, and Photoshop, thinking I could upgrade my skills and maybe monetize them. However, I became preoccupied with a brief teaching stint that demanded so much of my time and energy that I did not have time to continue those courses beyond the first levels. (Not that any of those skills are going to waste because they are applicable to my business. Besides, I can still continue them anytime I want since I have a lifetime membership with the institution that teaches them.) I already knew that if I brought up my desire to be an artist or writer, I would be told that I would end up being a starving artist or starving writer–because in previous family conversations mama had already emphasized how those careers would not put food on the table.

By the time I was ready for university, I was pretty much willing to take anything that would get me out of the house, which I had already sort of left by practically moving in with my aunt who was in theatre because she lived on campus where I had signed up for fellowship programs in theatre and creative writing. (Of course, my mother was strongly against it.) I had enrolled in a communications research course at the state university and was hoping to get into broadcasting. On the first day of class, even before my first class had begun, I was surprised to see mama at the door of the classroom, looking for me. She was much more excited than I was, as I had received a telegram (which she had read and already followed up on before telling me about it) inviting me to a full scholarship program.

Let me give a little backgrounder. In my senior year, I had learned that exams were open to students interested in the national science scholarship program. The only reason I knew about the program was because my youngest brother had studied high school in the national science high school and had already taken that exam. He was quite smug about being a science scholar and our mother made it very clear to everyone that he was the brilliant one who excelled in math and science. I decided to take the test just for the heck of seeing if I would pass it. Little did I know I would.

Upon receiving the telegram, mama had quickly called up the number provided, inquired about the program and, apparently, visited the university where I would be studying, if I decided to take the offer. She had met the program head and spoken with several of my professors-to-be. So when she appeared at my classroom door, she already knew what was in store for me.

At the “interview”, I found out that only the top 100 students from the thousands of examinees nationwide had been offered scholarships. The top 50 could choose any science-related degree they wanted in any college or university in the country. My brother had passed in the top 50. He would receive full tuition and a socialized stipend, which meant that, because my parents were in a higher income bracket, he would receive the smallest monthly allowance. The next 50 were offered a full scholarship with a full stipend (regardless of parents’ income), a full book and clothing allowance, and practically guaranteed employment for the first two years after graduation, because we were obliged to teach in a public school for two years, as part of the scholarship contract. The catch? We could pick either math or physics as our major degrees, doubled with an education degree. The objective of that program was to improve the quality of teaching math and physics in the country. I quickly figured that, since teaching had been a potential career on my list, and I could pick math because I guessed I could manage that better than having to produce lab reports for physics experiments–something that totally turned me off in high school (I could never get my experiments to perform the way they were supposed to and I hated doing the science projects). What was more important was the full stipend and additional allowances, which would give me complete independence and, thereby, emancipate my from mama’s control. Of course, I took the scholarship.

So my teaching degree sort of fell into my lap. It wasn’t anything I had to work very hard for and, as a result, I put in the least effort into it, focusing my energies instead on the school paper, then I was recruited into the resident folk dance company, then I was attracted by archery and became a varsity athlete, representing the university in several regional and national competitions. The best part was that all my extracurricular activities also earned me additional stipends. As a student, I was rich.

After graduation, I was no longer obliged to teach in a public school because I had neglected a couple of courses and had to repeat them. (I had actually deliberately neglected them for reasons I might put into writing some other time.) As a result, the scholarship was withdrawn, but because I was in my final year and my other grades were fairly outstanding, I was allowed to complete the degree but had to cover my own tuition and lost the stipends in my final additional semester. That did not bother me, because I was, as I mentioned, financially set as a student and had enough (including extra income from teaching a Polynesian dance class and some modeling) to cover my expenses. I had also started part-time work as a secretary / administrative assistant in my final semester, so I just had to pass those three courses I had neglected. The good thing was that I earned pretty high marks for them, so my GPA was pretty decent in the end.

I had continued my work, this time as a full-time secretary, and accepted a second job as a part-time comptroller. Shortly after, I decided to join one of the national theatre companies, to get closer to my dream of working with theatre and the performing arts, even if it was just doing marketing at first. That led to a whirlwind courtship and all my dreams of a professional career were put on hold. Sometime during that period when I was dealing with being a new wife and mother-to-be, I had decided I would pursue a master’s degree, but I needed to move back to the capital to do that.

My whirlwind courtship ended up as a whirlwind marriage and I found myself back in mama’s house, making myself useful and away from her as much as I could by taking my sister to school and picking her up after school. On one such trip, I ran into a former principal whom I had been quite close to, and she quickly invited me to teach, not math for which I had earned a degree, but English, which she knew I excelled at. To ensure I had the proper credentials to teach English, she directed my to the top private university, known for its courses in the liberal arts and humanities, in the National Capital Region where I was to enroll for a master’s degree with the English department. I never look a gift horse in the mouth and, by then, I was following whatever opportunities fell into my lap. So off I went to start my master’s and, in three months, I was officially employed as a teacher in the same school where I had studied from kindergarten to high school.

2 thoughts on “Switching Gears: A Teaching Life (Part I)

  1. WOW! I’m impressed. Are you going to finish this story?

    On Mon, Jul 8, 2019 at 1:06 AM Cindy Lapeña: Creativity Unlimited wrote:

    > mimrlith posted: ” I’ve been a teacher for more than half of my life and > while it was, admittedly, one of my career choices, it was not my first. > Every since I became aware of the concept of a career, I have wanted to be > a writer first, second, a director, and third, an ar” >

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